Turntable Reviews

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Turntable

ARTICLE INDEX

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Turntable In Use

After a short installation and setup the Debut Carbon is ready to start playing some music. Listening to Nirvana Unplugged from ORG Music, the bass is much deeper and tighter than with a typical budget turntable and cartridge. Kurt Cobain's voice is a bit hoarse and scratchy but well anchored and isolated from the instruments. Musicians are well laid out on the stage in front of me, though it doesn't extend beyond the speakers or too deep into the rear wall. Projecting a large soundstage is where budget tables and cartridges run into their limits, but the Debut Carbon did a very nice job with putting everyone in their proper place.

Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge over Troubled Water sounds far more impressive than Nirvana did. On "The Only Living Boy in New York" the Debut throws out a soundstage well beyond its price range. Vocals were articulate and clear, with the harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel staying distinct from each other instead of blurring together. Instruments often seem to be coming from the walls halfway between the speakers and my chair, providing a larger-than-life soundstage that is truly enveloping.

To see how the Debut Carbon can improve from stock I installed the Acryl-It and Speed Box II upgrades to my unit. The Acryl-It is lighter than the included metal platter, but lets you ditch the felt mat, and is less resonant as well. The Speed Box II is a far higher quality power supply that uses a quartz clock and filter system to improve upon the speed control of the table and allow for switching between 33 and 45 RPM with the touch of a button. Installing both upgrades takes under 5 minutes, and the Speed Box II is tiny enough to hide right next to the table.

Though you would think these are subtle upgrades, I find them to be anything but. With The Black Keys El Camino LP, the Carbon does a better job of getting everything out of the grooves, for better or worse. Backgrounds are now clearer, though any dust and grime that is in the grooves is also far more present as well. Speed control is improved, and drums have more kick to them than before. Moving between the two different upgrades, the Speed Box II makes more of a difference as the boost to speed accuracy is clearly noticeable, but the benefits of the Acryl-It are strong as well.

Being able to switch from 33 RPM to 45 RPM without needing to switch belts makes the Speed Box II an upgrade I wouldn't go without. Many titles I previously avoided as the changing of belts is a hassle, but removing that obstacle led me to my 45 RPM titles. Rumours by Fleetwood Mac is as brilliant as always, with detail and clarity that blow away the CD version my wife owns. Strings and guitars have more texture and air than on CD, sounding far more like a live performance and less like a sterile recording.

Beyond audiophiles, the main growing market for turntables is a young buyer. While some hipsters just want to use a turntable to flash their indie-cred and show they don't fall into the iPod crowd, for many they are discovering it's the best way to actually hear their music. The past two decades have seen the mastering of popular music go way downhill, where Radiohead's second album, The Bends, has fantastic dynamic range but their latest releases like In Rainbows are horribly compressed and squeezed yet still get Grammy nominations for recording quality!

Thankfully there are often two masters produced for albums: One that is used for the digital copies of it, be it on CD or a download, and one that is used for the vinyl release. Often the vinyl release has a wider dynamic range, more detail, and can actually take advantage of high performance audio equipment. Listening to the latest releases from Fiona Apple, Passion Pit, M83 and others on vinyl all sounded superior to their digital versions. Background instruments were more audible and not just obscured by louder instruments; drums and bass had actual kick instead of just being loud or louder, and the top end wasn't nearly as harsh since the recording wasn't constantly being clipped.

While those that listen to jazz and classical are spoiled by having recordings that truly prize quality and dynamics compared to popular music, those of us with more mainstream tastes can get much better quality from a turntable like the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon. No matter how great your CD player or DAC is, if your recording is junk, it's going to sound like junk, and you'll find that a simple $400 turntable will blow away far more expensive digital equipment on modern music. Listen to some current recordings on the Debut Carbon and I doubt you'll want to buy a CD of anything again.